The pandemic has upended travel brands' marketing strategies. The on-again, off-again demand for travel makes it difficult to land on an approach that connects with customers.
There is good news, though. 2022 is poised to be a breakout year for travel and brands that adapt to the new normal.
Travel marketers' focus on driving business results remains. Still, nearly everything else has changed, including consumer expectations of travel brands and traveler preferences, which now favor satisfying pent-up wanderlust, safety, and flexibility. Even the audience is different. Business travelers had been a significant focus for travel brands pre-Covid. Now, leisure travelers are front and center.
And a new opportunity is emerging. Consumers want brands to make a second first impression - to come back to the market and explain who they are and what they stand for but in a more authentic way.
Social media is a natural outlet for delivering authentic messages to travelers. Thirty-eight percent of US adults said they would use social media to help plan their summer trip. This includes 54% Millennials and 57% Gen Z.
Creators as an advertising channel
With brand loyalty up for grabs and leisure travel becoming an even more critical revenue source with waning business travel, one strategy gaining traction is for travel brands to engage audiences with relatable stories from real people.
Working with and through travel creators - bloggers, photographers, and videographers with highly engaged audiences - makes sense. Eighty-four percent of those who follow travel influencers said they've turned to them for trip recommendations.
Creators are a good match for what travel brands need right now. Because they're nimbler than a production team, they can reduce production costs and planning. But more importantly, creators are relatable humans giving their perspectives on a world that's been in various stages of lockdown for over a year.
In other words, creators can reach consumers in ways that brands can't. Rather than tell consumers what airline to fly, hotel to book, or experience to have, they show them what it's like to travel—what's changed, what's safe, and what's happening in the world right now.
As Sanjay Bhatia, industry manager, business group at Meta, says: "Partnering with creators provides an authentic voice to new and existing audiences. Imagine no longer needing to solely rely on platform-specific targeting or intent modeling and instead being able to bring your product to life via real people who consumers trust. That's the immense value creators can provide."
Plus, creators have traveled domestically and internationally throughout the pandemic (when regulations have allowed). They're some of the first people to travel because they're more comfortable with it. And their audiences are still keenly interested in how to travel, where to go, and what to do, especially under the current circumstances when work from home can mean work from anywhere.
How creators do what they do
Creators educate their audiences through consistent content production, follower shares, hashtag strategies, and following other creators and brands. Some produce different types of content (short-form, long-form, video) and deliver it across multiple channels, especially social media.
They also partner with brands to leverage branded content ads, such as those on Facebook, which allow brands to put marketing dollars behind creator content to extend its reach. As a result, both macro-influencers and micro-influencers can drive results for businesses.
Travel creators meet the authenticity threshold with their expertise on a topic, well-researched information, or first-hand experience with a product, service, or life stage. And they're respectably agile. Many adapted, even during restricted travel, offering other services, such as tutorials on photography or writing, to keep their audiences engaged.
Creators are very savvy about how to tap into topics their audiences care about.
"When I'm deciding what content to share, I look at what is happening in the world of travel and what my followers are asking about. I'm always receiving comments or direct messages from people wanting to know more about a particular destination or travel topic, so that's where I start. I try to develop content around what my followers really want to know, even if it means pushing myself creatively," Tami Villa, travel creator (Instagram: @tami_travels) explains.
How to work with creators
Brands can partner with creators in multiple ways, including integration into existing content through paid product placements or promotions. Creators can develop customized content as part of an exclusive content partnership with a brand. Brands too can build content and activations featuring creators as part of a long-term partnership.
An essential step is finding influencers who align with your brand. Influencer software and databases, such as Facebook's Brand Collabs Manager tool, can facilitate connections with creators and enable branded content advertising. Brands also work through agencies or other third parties, including Meta Business Partners (MBP) to get help navigating the creator ecosystem.
Working through a third party offers significant benefits to the brand. MBPs can validate "follower health" and provide audience insights. They can also help with logistics like obtaining content permissions, monitoring production timelines to streamline the entire process, and reviewing content to ensure it meets brand safety guidelines.
Does creator advertising work?
Many travelers look to creators for guidance. Sixty-three percent of people who engage with travel influencers say they're relying on that content now more than they were before the pandemic.
And, companies see this in their business results. 90% of companies surveyed that use influencer marketing believe it is effective. This statistic from Influencer Marketing Hub's Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report 2021 "has hovered around the same level in each of our surveys," the report states. "Most influencer marketing partnerships work and are a win-win situation for all parties."
Some of the largest brands find success with creators. For example, Adidas' #hometeam campaign positioned benched adidas influencers, from Olympic athletes and musicians to directors and designers, as humans - parents, friends and neighbors - challenged with the same stresses and fears around COVID-19 as nearly everyone else.
Thousands of videos, stories, events, classes and live streams flowed out over four months, reaching 36.3 million people in five markets and raising awareness of #hometeam's association with adidas for 780,000 people.
Additionally, Pampers Pants: Moving Moments leveraged parenting influencers to refresh the Pampers brand in another example of creator-brand collaborations.
Influencers locked down at home during the pandemic captured their fast-moving kids wearing Pampers Pants, "diapers made specially for kids who move." The campaign resulted in an ad recall lift of +14.5 points and a consideration lift of +1.2 points.
Of course, having the right creators, a relevant audience, experienced partners, and flexible platforms helps brands achieve the goals they're looking for, such as expanding their reach, generating new leads, and driving incremental bookings. The time has never been better for travel brands to make the most of their second first impression.